What to Look for in a Surveillance System

What to Look for in a Surveillance System

Proper surveillance can deter and even identify home intruders.

Surveillance systems have come a long way since the concept was first imagined in George Orwell’s “1984.”

According to supercircuits.com, the first reported use of temporary cameras was in Trafalgar Square, London, England, to monitor royalty in 1960. Now, surveillance feeds of just about anything can be viewed from your phone or other web-enabled devices. This leads to safer homes, which leads to more home sales.

The Urban Institute studied crime rates in Baltimore, Chicago and Washington, D.C. to determine whether installing surveillance cameras to reduce crime is an effective deterrent. It found that the value of cameras varies and is largely dependent upon how the surveillance system is set up and monitored. In areas where people thought the cameras were being monitored, the crime rate decreased. Prior to the installation of cameras, Humboldt Park in Chicago, Ill. had experienced a brief spike in crime with nearly 500 reported incidents in a single month, but after the cameras were put in place, crime dropped 20 percent the following month and stayed low.

Once you make the step to include surveillance systems in a home, there are now different options to consider. Should you use digital or analog? How does PTZ (pan tilt zoom) work? What’s an IP rating and what should you look for? Here are some answers.


Analog vs. Digital

The main difference between analog and digital cameras (also known as IP cameras) is how the video signal is being transmitted and where the video is encoded.

An analog surveillance camera begins with a charge-coupled device (CCD) sensor and then digitizes the image for processing. But before the sensor can transmit the video, it needs to convert it back to analog so the video can be received by an analog device, such as a video monitor or recorder. Unlike IP cameras, analog models have no built-in web servers or encoders and require no technical maintenance. These functions are implemented in the recording and/or control equipment.

The only real advantage of analog cameras is that they are currently cheaper. A typical medium-quality analog dome camera sells retail for about $100 to $150. A similar quality IP camera sells for about twice that amount. They have been dropping in price, however.

Analog cameras are available with varifocal lenses that can focus as focal length and magnification change, pan/tilt/zoom and long distance infrared. But what you see, is what you get. Analog cameras get a grainy image as you zoom in, while you can digitally zoom on IP cameras.

Analog vs. IP surveillance by www.NESecurity1.comNow let’s—ahem—focus on those digital IP cameras. IP cameras encode analog images internally, and then transmit the video information digitally over an Ethernet connection to a web-enabled device. They have their own IP address, connect directly to a wired or wireless network and require maintenance.

Most digital still cameras use either a CCD image sensor or a CMOS (complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor) sensor. These sensors capture light and convert it into electrical signals. A CCD sensor uses a global shutter, which captures the entire frame at the exact same time. A CMOS sensor uses a rolling shutter, which exposes the frame from top to bottom. Both of these shutters have their own pros and cons.

These cameras have a superior image quality and remote accessibility. And in time, you bet they will be more cost effective.

“IP cameras that conform to the HDTV standard have a wide range of uses, especially when you consider that HDTV 720p and 1080p cameras offer three and six times the resolution, respectively, of the typical analog camera,” says Steve Surfaro, industry liaison of Axis Communications.

The minimum resolution for HD surveillance is 720p (1280×720). Other HD resolution options include 1080p (1920x1080p) and the new 4K UHD “Ultra HD” format, which provides four times the resolution of 1080p (3840×2160). HD surveillance means even more clarity, but also a higher pricepoint. A high definition surveillance camera system with 27″ monitor and eight cameras like this one from Lorex will cost about $1,800.

IP cameras can not only provide a live feed and record to the DVR, they can also be sent to the cloud. This allows access to cameras and archive records from any computer, smartphone or a tablet.

If going with an outdoor camera, look at the rating. For indoors, cameras with an IP rating around 44 are fine. (IP rating means ingress protection, not IP as in Internet Protocol, or web, camera) For outdoors, you want at least a 65 … greater if you want something vandal proof. The first digit will be from 1 to 6 and represents the enclosure’s level of protection against solid objects. The second number is how resistant the enclosure is to water and dust particles, and ranges from 0 to 8.

A digital IP camera can have either a CMOS or a CCD sensor, and is available in the same styles as traditional surveillance cameras such as Pan/Tilt/Zoom, domes, bullets, box infrared, covert and wireless.


Camera Styles


Thermal infrared security image. Photo by www.federalinfrared.comOutdoor infrared cameras produce high-resolution color video during the day. They work best in low light conditions, though they can switch from color to black and white when necessary. They can also be weatherproofed and can withstand hot and cold temperatures without any additional camera housing needed. Indoor infrared cameras offer a clear video image in both light and dark areas.

Other options exist. Jeff Kirkham of Vision Systems in Sheridan. Colo., says intensifier cameras such as those from Speco can take a little ambient light that is available and brighten the image. “The nighttime picture on them is phenomenal. It looks like daylight,” he says. These cameras, though, can be pricey.

If the area is pitch black, you will probably need to use an infrared or an illuminated camera. Kirkham says LED illuminated cameras are not often the best bet, and an intruder can see them when they glow.



Dome cameras come in a variety of styles, such as infrared, vandal-proof and controllable pan tilt zoom. They have a clear color high resolution picture and can be used inside and outdoors. Domed cameras also make it hard for would-be burglars to see where the lens is pointing. Vandal-proof models are a great choice in some areas, and some can withstand the strike of a baseball bat.


Pan tilt zoom

Pan tilt zoom cameras can be controlled through the DVR, remote viewing software and/or a controller. Some can even be motion-sensored. They can go up, down, left, and right and have zoom capability. They are good for capturing license plate numbers and identifying faces. You can also program them to monitor certain areas while you are away. They require a Category 5 cable and a power/video RG-59 Siamese coax cable to control it live and over the Internet. They are on the pricier range, starting at $500.CCTV box security camera



Pro box cameras are known for high video quality. Lenses can be changed on the pro box camera based on the viewing angle and zoom that is required. Some can be switched from color during the day to black and white in low light conditions. The lower the light, the better the camera can see.


Wired vs. Wireless

TecHome Builder is a firm believer that wired is always better and should be used whenever possible. (Best rule of thumb: Use wireless only where you can’t get wires!) The same is true with cameras, although some wiring has to be included anyway.

“There is no such thing as a true wireless system,” says Keith Ariel, director of sales and marketing at Help, Inc. “There are some systems that have receivers but you need to get power to the camera, so that is not really wireless. There has to be power to the camera.”

“That’s kind of a misnomer. There are some solutions out there that are self-contained, but they are costly for sure. So we typically recommend wired cameras.”

According to EZWatch.com, if you are connecting the camera to a remote power source, you should consider running your video and power cables together. Video security cables are available with the power and video cables run side-by-side (known as Siamese Cables) or all under one jacket. These will make installation much easier than trying to pull two separate wires. 

The bottom line, however, is that wired cameras tend to have better video quality. And as previously mentioned, wired products are also more reliable. 


Video Verified

Finally, one thing to consider is video-verified alarms for surveillance systems. These alarms provide end users with remote “look-in” capability through the Internet. The use of video by professional monitoring centers to verify alarm conditions makes this an attractive option for potential homeowners. Safety officials put a lot of stock in these systems as well.

Video verified alarms are considered more reliable and preferred by public safety over both traditional (non-video) alarms and user 911 calls (with user look-in, but no professional monitoring.)

While exact numbers vary, in general video verification will decrease public safety response time, by 9 times or more in many jurisdictions. It also decreases property loss, increases officer safety and, most importantly, increases arrests, which are the ultimate deterrent to crime.

“I would never discourage any one from investing in whatever security they can afford,” said ESX panelist Chief Dye, of the Grand Prairie, Texas Police Dept. “We will continue to respond to traditional alarms as we always have, but we give priority response to video alarms monitored by professional monitoring centers.” 

About The Author

Kelly Mello is a TecHome Builder Staff Writer, creating timely, investigative articles for its eMagazine and Special Reports. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in English: Communications & Rhetoric. She began her writing career in 2007 as editorial assistant for GateHouse Media. From 2010 to 2013, she was local editor for various Patch sites, including Norton.Patch.com.

Related posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *